tor·​toise·​shell | \ ˈtȯr-tə-ˌshel How to pronounce tortoiseshell (audio) , -əsh-ˌshel \

Definition of tortoiseshell

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : the mottled horny substance of the shell of the hawksbill turtle used especially formerly in inlaying and in making various ornamental articles
2 or tortoiseshell butterfly : any of several showy nymphalid butterflies (genera Nymphalis and Aglais) that have wings mottled with orange and brown or black



Definition of tortoiseshell (Entry 2 of 2)

1 : made of or resembling tortoiseshell especially in mottled brown and yellow coloring tortoiseshell glasses
2 : of, relating to, or being a color pattern of the domestic cat consisting of patches of black, orange, and cream

Examples of tortoiseshell in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun If tortoiseshell was the most popular animal print for nails in 2019, then 2020 is sure the be the year that crocodile and alligator designs take over. Nicola Dall'asen, Allure, "Crocodile Prints Are Instagram's Most Diverse Nail-Art Trend Yet," 12 Feb. 2020 The jovial retiree, with a wide grin and tortoiseshell glasses, worked in restaurants growing up, then had his own for five years. TheWeek, "Traveling across Belgium to build a better meatball," 2 Feb. 2020 Looking for a little more guidance on how to DIY a tortoiseshell manicure? Condé Nast, Allure, "Tortoiseshell Nails Are the Next Big Animal-Inspired Manicure Trend," 16 Aug. 2019 After working the runway at Burberry's London Fashion Week show, supermodel Bella Hadid went back to her hotel wearing a sheer tank, tortoiseshell sunglasses, and a tan leather jacket. Chelsey Sanchez, Harper's BAZAAR, "Bella Hadid Wore the Sheerest Tank Top During London Fashion Week," 17 Sep. 2019 Scroll on for some of our favorite examples of tortoiseshell nails for every style. Bella Cacciatore, Glamour, "Tortoiseshell Nails Are Fall’s Coolest Manicure Trend," 9 Sep. 2019 The callback to tortoiseshell sunglasses gives it a bit of a retro feel, yet the neutral palette and high shine give it a modern spin. Bella Cacciatore, Glamour, "Tortoiseshell Nails Are Fall’s Coolest Manicure Trend," 9 Sep. 2019 Wearing a velvet Ascot bag in crimson from The Row label that the twin sisters helm, Ratajkowski also accessorized her polka dotted slip dress with a pair of The Row’s tortoiseshell sunglasses designed in collaboration with Olivier Peoples. Vogue, "Emily Ratajkowski’s Latest Look Takes a Cue from the Olsen Twins," 20 Aug. 2019 This isn't the first time tortoiseshell nails have trended. Condé Nast, Allure, "Tortoiseshell Nails Are the Next Big Animal-Inspired Manicure Trend," 16 Aug. 2019 Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective From a closet-size barber stall, three men called out; a merchant in another stall held up his tortoiseshell cat. Exploring Luxor’s riches After a celebratory breakfast the next day — crepes, strawberry juice, Turkish coffee — our cruise ended. Michelle Green, New York Times, "A Nile Journey Guided by 19th-Century Women," 11 Nov. 2019 Meghan also donned a pair of her favorite Sarah Flint pumps, which feature a tortoiseshell heel. Amy Mackelden, Harper's BAZAAR, "Meghan Markle Just Wore the Chicest Wrap Jacket by Australian Designer Scanlan Theodore," 27 Oct. 2018 Matchett also produces tortoiseshell hair accessories and has expanded into silver and gold stainless steel hoops too. Emily Farra, Vogue, "Get a Head Start on Holiday Shopping With This Line of Pretty, Affordable Tortoiseshell Earrings," 1 Nov. 2017 He was dressed casually but crisply, tortoiseshell glasses framing his face and a giant analog watch devouring his right wrist. Jesse Lichtenstein, New York Times, "A Whimsical Wordsmith Charts a Course Beyond Twitter," 15 June 2017

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'tortoiseshell.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of tortoiseshell


1632, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1651, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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Time Traveler for tortoiseshell

Time Traveler

The first known use of tortoiseshell was in 1632

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Statistics for tortoiseshell

Last Updated

4 Mar 2020

Cite this Entry

“Tortoiseshell.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 10 Apr. 2020.

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More Definitions for tortoiseshell


How to pronounce tortoiseshell (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of tortoiseshell

: the usually brown and yellow shell of a turtle that is used to make decorations
: a cat with yellow, orange, white, and black fur
: a usually brown and orange butterfly


tor·​toise·​shell | \ ˈtȯr-təs-ˌshel How to pronounce tortoiseshell (audio) \

Kids Definition of tortoiseshell

1 : a hard brown and yellow material that covers the shell of a sea tortoise used especially in the past for ornamental objects
2 : a brightly colored butterfly

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More from Merriam-Webster on tortoiseshell

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with tortoiseshell

Spanish Central: Translation of tortoiseshell

Nglish: Translation of tortoiseshell for Spanish Speakers Encyclopedia article about tortoiseshell

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